We met Tiffany Masterson in 2018 when she launched her brand, Drunk Elephant, at local Sephora stores. The conversation was one to remember.
She spoke with a steely confidence. When asked about any personal challenges faced when creating her brand, the skincare entrepreneur replied without hesitation: “I didn’t have any at all. I was completely convinced that my philosophy would be well received.”
That self-belief has paid off in leaps and bounds for the former stay-at-home mum. Drunk Elephant has become one of the world’s buzziest and fastest-growing skincare brands. Its success stems from a multi-pronged approach that starts with its quirky and instantly recognisable name. “Back then, every brand seemed to have a French name or a doctor’s name. That’s not me — I’m not French, and neither am I a doctor. One day, I found marula and I fell in love with it. When I Googled it, I found a Youtube video of elephants eating it and stumbling around, as if they were tipsy. Like drunk elephants.”
An eclectic name comes hand-in-hand with unique packaging. The products are bottled in bright colours and emblazoned with the quirky elephant logo —a design that stands out in a sea of efficacious but clinical-looking skincare. Within these bottles are some of the most potent skin potions in the market. Numerous have repeatedly won awards; legions of fans have sworn their devotion after seeing life-changing results. Today, the brand has also expanded to hair care.
What sets Drunk Elephant apart in an industry inundated with toxin-free brands is its elimination of what Masterson terms the ‘suspicious six’: Essential oils, fragrance/dyes, silicones, chemical screens, SLS and drying alcohols.
Masterson told us that a lot of these ingredients are unnecessary, and simply included to be more appealing to the consumer, “to make them feel silkier, feel more spreadable and generally look better.” She highlighted essentials oils as a point of controversy. “They’re clean, but they sensitise skin, resulting in irritation, breakout and aging. I eliminated any ingredient that holds the skin back from functioning and receiving.”
And judging by the rave reviews — a quick Google search affirms this — her buyers agree. What Masterson has achieved was not an easy feat. Her products are described as completely changing your skin issues. “If you think you have oily, acne-prone skin, this might change your perception of it completely. You’ll realise the problem has never been with your skin; it’s the ingredients in the products that you’ve been using.
“My products are like a cleanse. Think of it as going to a nutritionist who tells you to remove things from your diet before you begin reintroducing them and seeing if they work for you.”
Masterson’s success can also be attributed to her openness to feedback. “If the customers use it and love it and go on to talk about it, great. But if they use it, hate it and proceed to bash it, that’s fine too. I don’t want to control what people say. How else will I know the truth about my products? I’m open to questions. I’m not scared to make mistakes. I’m not defensive.”
She’s famous for avoiding traditional forms of marketing, such as advertisements or celebrity endorsements. “I don’t advertise — ever, ever, ever. I constantly have people telling me to pay influencers, but I’d rather do the opposite. I want my extra dollars to go to the products so I can improve their quality for the people who buy them, as well as the quality of the website. I do give people products but that will be my only form of advertising. I believe in word of mouth.”
Like all great entrepreneurs, Masterson takes success into her own hands from start to finish — an expected stance from someone who formulated her own formulations and created the packaging of her products. Her parting words? “What I see everyday is truly unbelievable. I wake up, I read the direct messages, the notes, and the comments. I’ll never stop. You can’t when you have that feeling that you helped somebody feel more confident about their skin.”
Tiffany Masterson answers: What’s your secret to staying ahead?
1. Don’t compromise on your values
Stay in your own lane and work from your gut no matter what anyone else says.
2. Do your own thing
It’s the only way you’ll stand out.
3. Be open to feedback
When you’re open about feedback, there is no chance for misrepresentation. It’s all real. The followers are real and the reviews are real. Sometimes it’s hard to hear the harsh truth, but that’s how you improve.
Drunk Elephant is now available at local Sephora stores.
This interview was first published on 9 November 2018, and has been recently updated.